I periodically have churches ask me what they should pay a Sunday morning guest speaker. Though that is not necessarily a simple question to answer, it is really an excellent question to ask. In this edition of our bi-weekly newsletter, let me attempt to provide some input on that question.
Did you know I’ve had ministers actually tell me they cannot afford to go back to some congregations? Often these are retired pastors on a very limited income and the total honorarium they were paid to preach was less than their cost of gas to get to and from the church. That can send a message that the church doesn’t value their time, and it may even convey an entitlement spirit. Though the pastors did not verbalize it, I could tell they felt disrespected and taken advantage of.
I first started preaching at churches in the mid-1970s. (I pity the people who had to endure those early sermons.) I’m thinking a typical honorarium would have been about $100. That expression of appreciation was encouraging to this young minister and provided help paying the bills while in college and seminary.
Would you believe an honorarium of $100 in 1975 would equal $440.55 in today’s dollars? I know of some churches that provide $400 or more for preaching today, but not many. I think often what happens is that church boards don’t think to review their policy about guest speakers. They might add a few dollars to it each decade, but often the amount for the honorarium has changed little and has certainly not kept up with inflation.
So, what do I recommend? Let me give some guidelines. I encourage each board to let these guidelines foster review and conversation about your church’s compensation policy for guest speakers. And then review that policy every five years to keep it up to date.
Before I give a suggested scale, let me emphasize this: always provide mileage reimbursement to the speaker. In some cases it might be better stewardship to provide airfare. It is the church’s responsibility and expense to get the speaker to the speaking venue and back home again. I recommend using the standard IRS reimbursement rate (currently 54 cents per mile) and adjust it automatically as the IRS makes changes. If you reimburse at a rate higher than the IRS allowance, the pastor will need to pay income taxes on the difference. This reimbursement can be included in the honorarium check but be sure to distinguish between mileage and honorarium in the memo section of the check.
Here’s my minimum suggested guide based on average Sunday morning attendance. Feel free to exceed my suggestion. Remember, mileage is in addition.
<100 = $125 100-199 = $175 199-299 = $250 300-499 = $325 500-999 = $450
1,000+ = $600
If you have more than one service, then increase the suggested honorarium total by $125-150 for each additional service.
You may be thinking that sounds like a lot of money for 30 minutes of work. Don’t forget that there is preparation time for every message. If the speaker develops a new message to fit the need or occasion of your church or to be part of a sermon series your church is doing, that message will need to be prepared from scratch and could take 15 hours to develop. Even if the speaker is doing a message already prepared, there is usually time spent editing it for a given church and reviewing it in prayerful preparation.
Think of the honorarium as an opportunity to express appreciation to a minister of the gospel for sharing God’s Word with your congregation. A generous honorarium also leaves a very good impression on the speaker and places the church is a very positive light.
Just so you know – I am not aware of any minister who provides pulpit supply for the money. We preach because we love the church, love God’s Word, and want to communicate it for life change. Our desire is to serve and honor God while building up and encouraging people.
We serve a God who is incredibly and immensely generous. And He desires for His church and His people to be generous, too.